Saturday, 30 October 2010

Farewell Eva Ibbotson

I was sad last week to read of the death of Eva Ibbotson who is one of the authors I fell in love with at an early age. The first Eva Ibbotson book to enter my greedy hands was A Company of Swans (1985), which combines the exotic lushness of the amazon, with whimsically drawn and utterly convincing characterisation. The next was A Countess Below Stairs , which made me entranced with Russia, showed me the power of beautiful hair and still has the ability to make me laugh and cry alternately.

Even in Eva Ibbotson's romantic novels magic shimmers below the surface. Her heroines are always offbeat, vibrant and full of belief in something - whether it be good food, joy of dancing or simply love. er heroes are thoughtful, intelligent and often wounded. Her incidental characters are humorous, lovingly drawn - aunts with bristling moustaches and big hearts, eccentric teachers and revolting cousins. There is often a theme of triumph over adversity: whether this be the horror of war (The Morning Gift), the loss of family and fortune (A Countess Below Stairs) or cruel guardians (A Company of Swans).

Much of this can be said to have stemmed from Eva Ibbotson's own life as a Jewish Refugee. The atmosphere and characters which bring her novels so richly to life spring from her own experiences, of cafes populated by refugees (Cosmo's in Finchley Road) desperately searching for wiener schnitzel. Eva also also had the experience of being a square peg in a round hole - she studied physiology at University but on her marriage left it behind her with relief and eventually turned her hand to fiction.

Eva didn't publish her first novel until the age of fifty, but as a writer she blossomed and continued writing until her death this October at the age of 85. Her last novel will be published posthumously this year. She is an inspiration.

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